Sunday, July 15, 2007

Square Enix vs. North America: Final Mix

It's not unheard of in Japan to have a game come out and then be re-released later in some form of director's cut. Who hasn't heard of Resident Evil and it's many incarnations spanning nearly all platforms from the PSOne to the N64 to the Game Boy? Capcom has not been one to shy away from this practice and neither are other companies.

The Japanese market, while not as big as the North American market, has very different buying habits. Besides the government request that all games be released on Sunday to minimize the impact on national productivity, many games are repackaged with a little extra content and released at full price a bit after the original game. Square-Enix has capitalized on this with the director's cuts of many games such as Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts, and Kingdom Hearts II. The North American market has seen very few of these re-releases and when they do, it's generally a console port with added content so that the purchase is justified in the buyer's eyes.

The sad downside of this is many rough edges in Squeenix's releases are never really fully realized with a second publish for North America. Yuna's story in FF X-2 did Final Fantasy X-2 International + Final Mission. Sora was already having encounters with the blokes in hoods before Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories but you would only know that if you'd played Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix. Need some optional bosses, desire to fight all of Organization XIII at will, or see the fantasy of a 3D Chain of Memories? All that content is easily accessible in Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix +. Never heard of these games? They're Japanese only releases. 

The logic behind a lack of a NA release is maddening. Square has said they won't re-release a game citing a variety of reasons, yet Namco can release new editions of Pac-Man all day and they will still sell. The same runs with Resident Evil, Super Mario 64, any Madden game, Prince of Persia, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid, and many more. All of these new releases are essentially the same game but they boast some new content and sell rather well, despite the fact that the best-seller $19.99 edition is sitting on the shelf right next to the new edition.

Square, take a leaf out of the sales book of North America and give us KH II: Final Mix + and all the other goodness you're still holding back. It shouldn't take 12 years to get a re-release in all cases.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How much do you pay to save your face? A cool billion.

Microsoft has been in a bit of a quandary as of late - what do you do with a 33% defective rate on a key product? And what do you do when the industry's acceptable failure rate is a single digit percentage? It wouldn't surprise me one bit if the famed red rings of death for the Xbox 360 has been the hot topic at the weekly meetings for the last few months over at the Microsoft Gaming Division in Redmond, WA.

Microsoft was placed in a difficult position with the Xbox 360 failure rate. The gaming division has yet to post a profit and in order to emerge they need to sell more software...but you can't sell software to a person with a broken console. First experiment - extend the warranty from three months to a full year. A good majority of broken 360 owners are pleased and quickly get back on the gaming highway. Quarterly results show an initial drop but then an upward trend.

A few months later the year warranty begins expiring on consoles that have now decided to stop working at no fault of the owner. At first it's a few and then a few more but the voices slowly start to get louder and Microsoft's new media center firmly establishes itself as a gamble when you buy it. The numbers are down again. Enter experiment two - create a special warranty to cover all units for 3 years that suffer from the red rings of death.

The timing of the second experiment is not a mere coincidence. The Wii is outselling the 360 as much as 6 to 1, the rumored Playstation 3 price drop is becoming less of a rumor, and E3 2007 is starting in a matter of hours. The last thing Microsoft needs is to lose ground in the current console race by either reputation or being slapped in the face with a potential class-action lawsuit. (Anyone remember the PS2 lawsuit for defective drives?) To avoid all this Microsoft has agreed to spending over a billion dollars. 

The sad conclusion that has to be drawn is while Peter Moore, head of MS gaming, states that there has been "negligence" on the company's part and generally makes you feel good what is more likely going on is a battle for numbers. Microsoft has shown they really only will support what makes money when it comes to the 360 (Lumines Live! anyone?) and having a good reputation does just that. If the market wasn't where it is right now all you happy people (myself included) would not be very thrilled with MS right now.

But who cares? Free Xbox 360 repair!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Prediction: Mario & Sonic at Super Smash Bros. Brawl

A while back the world was taken by storm when it was announced that long time rivals Sonic and Mario would be meeting for the first time in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. This announcement was not made by chance or because someone thought it up.

In August 2006 Shigeru Miyamoto went on record stating that Nintendo had conducted a poll regarding which characters should be in the hotly anticipated Super Smash Bros. Brawl with Sonic coming out on top as the most sought after character along with this buddy, Tails and that Nintendo had even gone as far as to ask Sega if the duo could be used. Nothing was ever heard since - even the blog on has been slow to announce any new characters beyond previous characters from the Smash Bros. franchise. 

Between Nintendo's sudden silence and their request suddenly Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is announced, with Sega as the developer. While it's not unheard of for once rivals to suddenly become friends it makes perfect sense that Sega would allow Nintendo rights to their mascots if they got something of equal value in return. The outcome? Sega gets to develop a historical game and  Nintendo gets rights to Sonic and Tails for what will be one of the bestselling games of 2007. Sega gets the profits from Olympic Games and Nintendo get the profits from Brawl. It makes perfect sense.

Mark my words, Sonic and Tails will be in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Hello and welcome to Digital Stardust, a blog intending to cover industry trends and provide insight into possible moves being made by those involved with the fun you enjoy in your living room. It is my hope that you will enjoy the commentary posted here and that a discussion or two will occur.

Some things to know - I am not involved in the industry directly, although I once was. I am a hardcore video gamer who watches the news carefully and believe I have something to say. While most gamers are intelligent I rarely find that they look at the industry as a whole and track interesting moves. That's what I'm here for. I will make some predictions that may seem outrageous and I will make some less so. I will even publish the occasional review from the perspective of the casual gamer. I have written professional reviews for the now defunct and feel I have enough experience to blend in that a casual gamer review is possible.

Oh, and in case you were wondering - I own a Wii and Xbox 360 but have access to all other consoles. 

I ask your patience as the flavor of this blog is fleshed out and hey, you may learn something about a guy you don't even know.

Enjoy reading.